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State staffers ready to buck yet another salary freeze

2010-07-19T00:00:00Z State staffers ready to buck yet another salary freezeThe Associated Press The Associated Press
July 19, 2010 12:00 am  • 

A key union leader for Montana state and university employees says he will not bargain another salary freeze with the governor — drawing a line in the sand amid what is expected to be a very tight budget process.

The governor’s office responded by saying that tough economic times means everyone — including state employees — need to have reduced expectations. Budget Director David Ewer did not rule out the possibility of a pay freeze.

Eric Feaver, the forceful voice at the legislature and elsewhere for an influential union that represents about 3,000 state employees, told members in a newsletter that they don’t deserve another two years of static pay.

“If unable to make a salary gain when we next meet the governor’s representatives at the pre-budget bargaining table, we will take our chances with the next legislature,” wrote Feaver, who leads the MEA-MFT union. “Damn the considerable political risks.”

The Montana Public Employees Association, which represents about 3,500 state employees and 1,500 university employees, said it will seek the same thing in joint negotiations.

“We are all in agreement that we can’t ask our members to take another pay freeze,” said executive director Quinton Nyman. “People have been doing more work for less money, with fewer coworkers, and there has to be some compensation for them and we are willing to run that risk by taking it through the session.”

Traditionally, the unions negotiate a new two-year contract with the governor as the executive branch crafts a new budget proposal for the Legislature. That means final details in such negotiations would crystalize this fall so Gov. Brian Schweitzer could take a deal to lawmakers in 2011.

Last time around Feaver and others bargained a pay freeze in exchange for help with health insurance as the recession hit and the state budget situation tightened. That deal was necessary at the time, Feaver said in an interview, but union members won’t take another freeze that would lead to four years of static pay.

Ewer pointed out that some states are in far worse shape than Montana, and have made employees take pay cuts, furloughs or layoffs.

Last month, Schweitzer told the state’s other large union, the Montana Public Employees Association, that they won’t be laid off or furloughed and that he expected Montana would come out of the recession sooner and stronger than the rest of the country.

Ewer would only go so far as to say that he is working to avoid mass layoffs as he puts together the governor’s budget. He said the 2011 session will be a challenge.

“I have to look at many options when I am building the budget,” Ewer said.

Without a deal with the governor, union negotiations would take place amid the hectic — and often divisive — legislative budget process where party leaders usually end up making key decisions in the waning moments of the session.

“Bargaining with the legislature has got to be about the worst possible outcome, but it may be what we have to do,” Feaver said in an interview.

Partisan control of the legislature, split sharply in recent years, will be determined in fall’s elections — which means the union may have to go to Republicans if it doesn’t get a deal with the governor, a Democrat.

“I am sure the governor’s representative might tell us the exact same thing,” Feaver said. “Right now I don’t see me changing the message. That said, every message has a shelf life.”

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(25) Comments

  1. helenros
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    helenros - July 23, 2010 8:23 am
    People do seem to have the misconception that state workers are grossly overpaid and sit around eating donuts all day for lack of work. The fact is, most are making around 95% of what they would make for similar private-sector work. And most are working heavy caseloads because of prior workforce reductions. But people don't want to hear that, any more than they want to believe that welfare recipients meet work requirements (30-40 hours a week) and don't sit around all day watching soap operas and popping out more children. The popular viewpoint and reality are pretty far removed from one another.
  2. keith_christie
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    keith_christie - July 22, 2010 1:13 pm
    There will be a story in the IR in about six months about how some deputy director or some such received a raise, despite a "wage freeze". You can set your watch by it.
  3. MtMadeMan
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    MtMadeMan - July 21, 2010 4:13 pm
    If the State does not have the money,
    and the people can't afford higher taxes,
    then it does not matter what anyone's opinions are,
    nobody will get a raise.

    (Except for those politicians who cheat and reclassify their positions, and they should be fired.)
  4. Darth Vader
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    Darth Vader - July 21, 2010 1:47 pm
    Common Sense - you need to get your facts straight. I am not confused. There are "open shops" and "agency shops", if you will. Closed shopes are illegal. You are confusing the "Wagner Act" with "Taft Hartley". Members of a Collective Bargaining Unit vote on their CBA and if it should contain an agency shop provision. Remember,the union has to represent all members of the "unit" regardless if they pay dues, a rep fee or nothing at all (if not required by the CBA). Right to work states have laws that prohibit labor and management to negotiate over agency shop provisions whereby employees must pay a representation fee to the union if they are to work for the employer. It that is not "big brother", "big government" or all the other BS terms the right wing like to use, then I dont know what is!
  5. hotpepper
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    hotpepper - July 21, 2010 11:07 am
    Amen Ralphy, amen. Sometimes I wonder where Purple comes from. I know Purple is an EX state employee, maybe a little bit of resentment there?
  6. ralphy
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    ralphy - July 20, 2010 9:35 pm
    so purple wants to basically shut state government down - 35% of the work force is more than 5,000 people. 95% of those layoffs will be in Helena. every employee will be on unemployment payments so that fund will go broke - of course there will not be anyone there to process any of the payments. A good bunch of the unemployed will have to move elsewhere and that will collapse the housing market. The move will shut down public education across the state. The misconception out there is that state government is some sort of employee rich fat hog. Purple is an advocate for chaos and that plan is purely selfish idiotic gibberish.
  7. hotpepper
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    hotpepper - July 20, 2010 4:28 pm
    WildCherry. I work for the state, and have done so for over 10 years now. You WOULD NOT believe how many calls I get every day that people have no idea what agency to call. They just pick a state number at random and call that number. I ALWAYS find the right agency for them and then transfer the call. At MY office you ALWAYS get a real live person on the phone. I resent your remark. You get one receptionist here, and then your call gets transfered. Maybe if people knew who the heck to call you would NOT go though so many people. LOL!!!
  8. helenros
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    helenros - July 20, 2010 3:48 pm
    The Big L said: "and let the state employee bashing begin...again."

    Yup. Everyone seems to think public employees are no better than overpaid welfare recipients. Before calling the government bloated, maybe some people ought to do a little research and find out what it is state workers actually DO. An across-the-board cut would be devastating to the public, to say nothing of dumping a bunch of highly qualified, educated professionals into the job market.
  9. Everhaste
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    Everhaste - July 20, 2010 1:42 pm
    WILDCHERRI said: "Those of us on Soc. Sec. have a two year no raise situation.Plus Medicare will go up, up ,up...why should anything be different for the Big Shots? If you have ever tried to contact anyone who works for the government, you have to go through a secretary, then, the secretary's secretary, and then, go through about four or five more. Now, does that tell you anything? "

    Wildcherri, there are so many things wrong with this statement it kind of hurts my head a little.

    We'll start off with the "Big Shots" line. Who are you describing?! The gals working themselves to death at the local county Offices of Public Assistance? Revenue workers getting people their tax returns? The guys supervising fire crews for DNRC? The nice lady that cuts my paycheck? Or me, the guy that answers the phone when you're unhappy with my particular state agency?

    I certainly am a huge big shot with my 26k a year salary (which I'm very thankful for!).

    Listen, these aren't corporate kings sitting in fancy offices lighting their cigars with $100 dollar bills, they're your friends and neighbors working hard to make a living!

    As for the secretary's secretary comment, it's obvious you're ignorant of how state government works. Call any random state phone number and ask a question and there's a very, very good chance that person isn't going to be able to answer your question. Or even where to start!

    So they send you to someone else, possible a little closer to what you need. This keeps happening until you do get the answer you want.

    Heck, you sit there and complain about talking to 5 different people (who I guarantee were trying to help you out), at least you could hopefully understand them and you never had to hit 1 for English.

    Oh, and before anyone points it out, I wrote this on my break.
  10. The Big L
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    The Big L - July 20, 2010 11:57 am
    That's odd. When I have to call a state employee I just dial their number and talk to them. I've never had to go through four or five people after two secretaries. I think some of you don't have a clue what even happens in your government but feel the need to complain because someone on tv told you to. Or, you applied for a state job and didn't even get an interview meaning (in your mind) that you either have to know someone to get hired or you were just too overqualified. Get real.
  11. WILDCHERRI
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    WILDCHERRI - July 20, 2010 8:49 am
    Those of us on Soc. Sec. have a two year no raise situation.
    Plus Medicare will go up, up ,up...why should anything be different for the Big Shots?
    If you have ever tried to contact anyone who works for the government, you have to go through a secretary, then, the secretary's secretary, and then, go through about four or five more. Now, does that tell you anything? Perhaps a good cleaning out might make a difference on this so called budget.
    I am still wondering about the huge overage that they were debating about 3-4 years ago....where did all that go? It doesn't seem like that has been addressed at all. Maybe it's time it was. Good story for an eager reporter.
  12. Purple
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    Purple - July 20, 2010 2:42 am
    ralphy said: "The governor is running for a new office so he has already stated publicly that a wage freeze is coming (all politics and bad management). State employees should expect some sort of reduction in the work force - something like 6-10%. there will be some creative things discussed like a buyout for employees eligible to retire and so on. empty positions will be eliminated and resignations will be filled after they pass the "do we really need this job?" test. A blanket wage freeze however will really begin to show its effect as certain types of jobs become difficult to fill and un qualified people get those jobs. The state will hate to lose jobs in any sector, but if we can't afford employees, we shouldn't have so many!"

    How about a manpower reduction of, say, 35 percent, then the state could take a serious look at actually giving the rest a 3 percent cost of living pay raise.
  13. ralphy
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    ralphy - July 19, 2010 10:33 pm

    The governor is running for a new office so he has already stated publicly that a wage freeze is coming (all politics and bad management). State employees should expect some sort of reduction in the work force - something like 6-10%. there will be some creative things discussed like a buyout for employees eligible to retire and so on. empty positions will be eliminated and resignations will be filled after they pass the "do we really need this job?" test. A blanket wage freeze however will really begin to show its effect as certain types of jobs become difficult to fill and un qualified people get those jobs. The state will hate to lose jobs in any sector, but if we can't afford employees, we shouldn't have so many!

  14. Common Sense
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    Common Sense - July 19, 2010 9:06 pm
    Before I start on why a right to work policy has no dependence on government imposed collective bargaining, I'd like to let Habu know that he is so far off base that he must be from out of state. I've been around the world and seen most states. I've got to say Montanan's are very near the top in their intelligence. I would point out California, Massachusetts and Oregon have the dumbest populations.....in my opinion.
    Vader confuses an "open shop", or right to work with an "agency shop" where an employee does not need to join the union, but he does need to pay the equivilant of union dues.
    The employee cannot be fired for not joining the union as in a "closed shop" state, such as Montana.
    The Taft-Hartley Act addressed many of these tyranical union rules. Montana is one of the few atates in the West that still doesn't free it's citizens to work anywhere they please with out having to join a union.
  15. Habu
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    Habu - July 19, 2010 6:03 pm
    Helenros....What inflation? That will come soon enough as POTUS has asssured that we will be forced to do a number of very unhealthy economic things simply to save the country...and they may not work but NO society has printed itself out of debt. Of course he could advocated devaluing the dollar with Zimbabwe effect but best you read the tome,"This Time It's Different (subtitled) Eight hundred years of financial folly ...then you may grasp what we are all facing.

    As for those who lament losing the best and the brightest, well there are very,v ery few in this state. Montana is simply a poor state with a not terribly bright population
  16. Shonkin
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    Shonkin - July 19, 2010 4:31 pm
    Darth Vader said: "...With right to work you are actually increasing government in that the government decides what can be negotiated in a collective bargaining agreement and voted upon by the membership. "

    In what way does this differ from the National Labor Relations Act?
  17. Shonkin
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    Shonkin - July 19, 2010 3:39 pm
    Speaking as a State employee, I say there's no reason to think many of us are backing that blowhard. Like a lot of my co-workers, I am glad to have a paycheck coming in. Let MPEA or MEA/MFT call a strike. I'll cross their picket line.
    However, keep in mind that long-term pay freezes always have one bad effect. The best performers eventually quit and the sub-par performers stay.
  18. Darth Vader
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    Darth Vader - July 19, 2010 3:10 pm
    I find it ironic that the same folks who want right to work are the same folks who are against "bigger government" or for less government intervention. With right to work you are actually increasing government in that the government decides what can be negotiated in a collective bargaining agreement and voted upon by the membership.
  19. Common Sense
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    Common Sense - July 19, 2010 1:28 pm
    While everyone else is worried about where there next paycheck is going to come from the unions are going for a pay raise. I think it's time to layoff 5% of our bloated government. We definetely need to make Montana a right to work state and then do away with Union involvement in our government. By what right do unions support "Progressive" canidates even if their members would disapprove? Unions are a big reason why we are in deficit conditions, they are the reason we no longer have a manufacturing base in this country.
    Our country is long overdue for a cleansing from these Marxist entities. It is time for a rebirth of the American can-do attitude and a purging of the entitlement philosophy.
  20. rambler
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    rambler - July 19, 2010 10:24 am
    This is all well and good for union members who have someone to go to bat for them, but what about employees who are not part of a union. Plus what's to prevent departments from "relassifying" positions and providing raises anyway - like the Governor'r office did recently to provide at 38% raise for a couple of this finance people? Doesn't sound like a freeze to me!!
  21. The Big L
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    The Big L - July 19, 2010 8:19 am
    and let the state employee bashing begin...again.
  22. Habu
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    Habu - July 19, 2010 7:58 am
    State staffers would do well to inform themselves that they join the bloated federal regime in now outnumbering those Americans that work in the production of actual work as opposed to generating more regulation to add to the state and federal registers.

    Montana has ranked for DECADES in the top ten states that take more of the Marxist redistribution of wealth in this country that then pay, taking as of late $1.64 for every dollar they send to the federal coffers. Federal handouts keep Montana from bankruptcy.

    The state staffers should be on their knees thanking the productive states they have job at all.

    Habu
  23. DeltaEpsilonKappa
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    DeltaEpsilonKappa - July 19, 2010 7:54 am
    When Ewer did his little "job reclassification" for Ryan Evans and Shawn Graham to the tune of a 38% pay increase - he now expects the rest of the state's employees to sit back and just suck it up and take another pay freeze? Ewer even tried to slip some controversial pay raises for his staff starting in November 2009 but once word got to the IR and the public found out these raises were canceled.

    I'm not a staunch union supporter but in cases like this when even Ewer cannot set a proper example it's hard to expect the state employees to sit back and take it in the shorts.
  24. helenros
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    helenros - July 19, 2010 7:36 am
    You can't balance the state budget on the backs of the employees. Most state employees have endured statuc or nearly static pay for years. The consequence is that we lose the best people to private employers, plus the state workers have less buying power to put back into the state economy. There are thousands of state workers and they all are paying more for their health care, groceries, power, etc. and working for the public good. They deserve to make a living, not to lose ground to inflation.
  25. Bobcat
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    Bobcat - July 19, 2010 6:22 am
    This is so scripted it's becoming boring. Mr. Feaver communicates regularly with the Governor's Office, through others, and everybody knows the dance. But let me spell it out. 1) Mr. Feaver has lots of heat on him for the allowing the last budget to pass with a raise for only for those earning less than $45,000, and that ended up taxed as a bonus at very high tax rates. 2) Mr. Feaver wants to make it look as if he's standing tall for his membership, when he's really just another crony of this administration. 3) His message between the lines is that he wants his memership to vote Democrat in November so they can have control of at least one house and be very close in the other. Then when the pay bill is introduced, they can amend in a raise, figuring they can pull a few moderate Republicans to keep it alive the rest of the way. If it doesn't work out, the Governor isn't hurt because he didn't put a raise in his budget. Mr. Feaver isn't hurt because he will say Republicans are anti-union. And he will continue to get raises in his position of Executive Director. This whole back and forth is designed to save face for everbody in the future. Wouldn't it just be a lot easier to say there's not enough money for raises, so be grateful for the job you have and cowboy up?

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